We arrived in Turkey without any expectations and were blown away by the exotic beauty and history! Similar in culture to what we had seen in Greece, but still wildly different. Our first exposure to Turkey was in Izmir (for Ephesus), where we enjoyed the “Ultimate Ephesus” excursion. We boarded a luxury van that seated less than 12 people, and drove to the ancient city of Ephesus, where we were encouraged to and happily walked among the ruins. These were not roped off like other sites, and it made my husband blissfully happy to explore the ruins unrestricted. In the administrative section of Ancient Ephesus, we saw the Odeon, the Fountain of Trajan, and the Grand Theater. We wandered off, while still in range of our guide in our ear pieces, and enjoyed the peaceful remnants of what was.
We also visited the five terraces of the apartment houses built into Bulbul Mountain across from Hadrian Temple, still under extensive restoration. This area of Ephesus was covered and climate controlled, and walking platforms installed so that the restoration effort is undisturbed. We could clearly see the painted murals and designs on walls and the meticulously crafted mosaic tile floors. While we might consider these living spaces small by our standards, the people of Ephesus fortunate enough to live in these apartments lived opulently.
Returning to the street level, we explored Arcadian Way, once visited by Cleopatra and Marc Antony.
Worth mentioning is the herd of cats everywhere at Ephesus. They were doing very cat things like being mouthy, laying all over everything, and not posing for pictures. They were obviously used to swarms of people, and didn’t care one bit. They seemed to be where the most people were, so the population was most dense at the Library of Celcius, probably the most striking and photographed structure at Ephesus.
After Ephesus, we visited a local hotel for a Roman/Ephesian feast including wine with sesame seeds added, evidently an interesting local custom. Everything was wonderful and refreshing.
What Turkish excursion would be complete without a mandatory stop at a rug store? I enjoyed the tour, the silk-to-rug presentation, and complimentary wine and apple tea. But then the sales pitch began and it was high pressure. My skin crawled a bit, but sales people have that effect on me. So no, we didn’t come home with a rug. But the apple tea was a pleasant surprise, and this was the cup that opened up my love for tea. All in all, it was a lovely first day in Turkey.
We spent two days in Istanbul. Our ship stayed at port overnight, so we had the opportunity to go out at night as well. We enjoyed the “Complete Istanbul 2-day Package” excursion, where we spent both days visiting the Hippodrome, Blue Mosque, St Sophia Museum, Topkapi Palace, Spice Bazaar and Grand Bazaar.
The architecture of Turkey was incredibly beautiful. I was amazed by all the intricacy of the tile work, filigree screens, luxurious furnishings, and gold plating inside and outside of the buildings. What a stark contrast from Greece. Not that one was more beautiful than the other, it’s more like choosing between chocolate souffle and creme brulee. There is no choosing, you simply order both. The Hagia Sophia and Topkapi Palace were a gorgeous welcome to Turkey.
We also had the pleasure of a boat ride down the Bosphorus to the city’s connection to the Black Sea. We were treated to wine, tea (apple tea!), and soda during our “mini cruise.” Along the way, we had a great views of Dolmabahce Palace, Beylerbeyi Palace, Blue Mosque, and Ciragan Palace (where we later had dinner).
We had plenty of time to shop both the Spice Bazaar and Grand Bazaar, where we sampled spices, turkish delight, and apple tea. I came home with saffron and earrings!
Later that night we dined on Ottoman cuisine like sultans at Tugra Restaurant in Ciragan Palace Kempinski. The menu was exotic and decadent, yet the prices in lira were very affordable. I ordered a wine and made an idiot of myself when I got so excited (intimidated?) that I forgot to actually taste the wine during the approval step of the wine service. I jumped the gun and gave the nod to pour for the rest of the table after I only smelled the wine. Idiot. We had a good laugh at my expense (and still do) and commenced with the dinner.
On our second day we visited the Blue Mosque and Hippodrome. In the Blue Mosque, the women were required to cover our hair, so I wrapped my head in my pashmina scarf rather than borrow a loaner from the mosque. The mosque was stunning! The columns were as wide as cars, and the chandeliers were wider than most living rooms. Equally incredible was the tile work, in shades of blue and complimentary colors. The nearby Hippodrome was the home to Ancient Egyptian obelisks and very friendly street dogs.
Our Turkish feast that lunch was at a local hotel and was as rich, maybe richer than the one we enjoyed near Ephesus. I’m not really sure what we ate but I inhaled every bite. Every. Bite.
The last attractions on our 2-day tour were Hagia Sophia and Underground Cistern. Hagia Sophia was once a cathedral, turned mosque, turned museum. It was interesting to see Christian iconography alongside Islamic symbols. Istanbul was lovely. Turkey was lovely. Until we meet again…